Projects Could Usher Big San Francisco Waterfront Revival

San Francisco, Forest City, Potrero, Brick, Berkeley, NRG Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric, India Basin, Pier 70, Lennar Corp, Macerich, AT&T Park, Paragon
Forest City’s Pier 70
 Forest City’s Pier 70
Forest City’s Pier 70

By Neil Gonzales

San Francisco’s central and southeastern waterfronts—now featuring mostly ghostly remnants of an industrial maritime past—are poised for a major renaissance filled with vibrant commercial, residential, recreational and entertainment spaces.

Among the planned or proposed efforts along these stretches of the city’s bayshore are three large mixed-use projects located near each other. Local developer District Development is pursuing one project at the former Potrero Power Plant site at 1201 Illinois St. while, just to the south, Cleveland-based real estate company Forest City is targeting another at Pier 70. Slightly further south is San Francisco-based developer Build Inc.’s India Basin project.

However, infrastructure, transit and environmental challenges could pose big roadblocks to a waterfront revival.

“Former industrial sites were not designed to deal with a large flow of people,” said J.R. Eppler, president of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association. “So, as we modernize these sites, we need to modernize the infrastructure around them.”

Potrero Power Plant site
District Development envisions residential, retail, office and industrial buildings totaling 3 million square feet on 21 acres at the Potrero site. This estimated $2 billion project could start seeing structures by 2018 or 2019 with construction lasting late into the next decade. The architect is Berkeley-based Brick LLP.

Property owner New Jersey- and Texas-based power company NRG Energy is providing the initial capital for entitlements. District Development official Seth Hamalian said it’s still too early to secure construction funding.

The Potrero plant had been one of the worst polluters in California, and former owner Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said it remains in charge of “addressing potential impacts to soil, groundwater, surface water and sediments.”

Extensive site assessment and cleanup are under way, Hamalian added, “and we are extremely confident any issues will be mitigated. We look forward to continuing to work with PG&E and the community to ensure the site is safe for a vibrant mixed-use development.”

Area residents remain worried about the prospect of homes being built on a site that had a history of pollution, Eppler said. “Certainly, we’re interested in making sure the environmental cleanup is done fully and completely for whatever eventual use happens there. But we do see [the redevelopment of] the power plant and other sites as an opportunity to serve the needs of the city for offices and residential.”

India Basin
Build Inc.’s proposal calls for an urban village in the India Basin neighborhood that could feature up to 1,166 housing units, 85,400 square feet of retail and commercial space, a community market pavilion, a charter school, artist studios and bike paths. Global design, engineering and urban planning firm SOM is the lead architect.

The project could cost $300-$500 million, Build Inc. principal Lou Vasquez said. “We hope to break ground in late 2017. The project is phased and will be built out as market conditions allow, so the finish date is unknown.”

A commercial alternative to the project would build up to 504,150 square feet of offices and institutional space and 781 residential units, the company said.

Michael Yarne, also a principal at Build Inc., pointed out that unlike many of the sites along the eastern bayshore, the India Basin project’s location is landfill upon which no large industrial use was built such as Navy bases or factories. “The site has been mostly vacant for the past 50 years,” he said.

Pier 70
Forest City is eyeing between 1,100 and 2,150 residential units with 30 percent of them affordable; up to 2 million square feet of offices; about 450,000 square feet of retail, light-industrial and arts space; and parks on 28 acres at Pier 70. Construction could begin in 2017 and continue in phases for 15 years.

“This part of the waterfront will become an asset to the surrounding community by blending together a variety of uses—arts and creative spaces, housing across the spectrum of affordability, light manufacturing, local retail, 9 acres of waterfront parks—all carefully designed to prevent any new building out of scale with historic structures on the site,” Forest City said on a project Web site.

Separately, Emeryville-based rehabilitation specialist Orton Development, Inc. seeks to restore the core of the pier, rejuvenating largely vacant historic office and industrial buildings into mostly commercial and light-industrial uses. The $100 million project would include an indoor lobby or atrium in one building and an outdoor courtyard both to be accessible to the general public.

“In keeping with the tradition of the site, the historic core will return to a major employment hub while also providing amenities for tenants and the surrounding community,” Orton said on its project Web site.

Other waterfront projects
In San Francisco’s southeasternmost area, Miami-based homebuilder Lennar Corp.’s The Shipyard development is going up, featuring 6,000 homes, 3 million square feet of commercial space and more than 230 acres of open land.

Just to the south of that, Lennar, in a joint venture partnership with Santa Monica-based shopping center developer Macerich, plans for another mixed-use project – a 500,000-square-foot urban retail complex accompanied by more than 6,000 homes at the site of the former Candlestick Park football stadium. The outlet is slated to open in 2017.

Additionally, to the north in Mission Bay, the Golden State Warriors professional basketball franchise aims to build a $1 billion, 18,000-seat arena. This project would also have 100,000 square feet for shopping and 580,000 square feet of office and laboratory space.

Need for infrastructure and transit improvements
All these waterfront projects can succeed only if infrastructure and transit improvements are adequately invested in and around the sites, Potrero Boosters’ Eppler said.

But as of now, he said, “there’s little in the way of adding transit planning to move people in and out of the areas. Take India Basin and Hunters Point: Right now, there’s only a single roadway to service that entire area—Innes Avenue.”

Developers contend they are taking such concerns into account. For instance, “the whole of the southeast waterfront will be tied together by a mass-transit spine, bike and pedestrian lanes, and a waterfront parkway—all of which will ultimately stretch from AT&T Park to South San Francisco,” Vasquez said.

The infrastructure and transit issues are “certainly a concern,” said Patrick Carlisle, chief market analyst for the San Francisco-based real estate company Paragon, but he has no doubt those improvements will happen.

“Developers know they have to put in the infrastructure,” Carlisle said. “These areas will be developed in a cutting-edge way for both commercial and residential use,” and the new systems installed will likely be of the latest technology and “superior to what we currently have.”

Despite the infrastructure and environmental hurdles of developing along the waterfront, he said, developers are drawn there because of the limited available land in San Francisco—especially now in an ultracompetitive real estate market.

If and when these waterfront sites are fully developed, Carlisle said, “they will completely change the face, ambiance and demographics of those areas. San Francisco will create entirely new neighborhoods that are vibrant and dynamic.”

These projects would connect isolated waterfront areas to the rest of the city, Hamalian added. “One consistent theme is taking portions of the waterfront that were off-limits and blighted and opening them up for active and productive use.”

SOM’s India Basin Conceptual Design
SOM’s India Basin Conceptual Design
West Coast Commercial Real Estate News